NORTH TONAWANDA - Thousands of flags memorializing those who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001 created the Healing Field - a solemn and beautiful panorama along the Niagara River in Gratwick-Riverside Park on the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
The sale of the 3,000 flags helped the Healing Field organizers raise $20,000, which will be donated to local veterans groups, said Healing Field board members Barbara Tucker and Diane Krause, who met with the North Tonawanda Common Council at its Dec. 13 work session.
Tucker and Krause also announced the proceeds would be used to present the city with a sign identifying "Gratwick-Riverside Park" as a way of thanking the city for its support.
"Over a year ago we came to the Council with a plan for the Healing Field and we were astounded at how receptive the Council was. There was never a time we had to ask twice for something and usually it was done before we even had a chance to ask," said Tucker.
Tucker said the sign is needed because so many people asked Healing Field organizers, "Where is that park. We don't know where you are."
Tucker presented the design for a 4 x 8 foot sign with a green background and gold lettering, but noted that the Council could choose any color it likes. The cost of the sign, which will be created by Rosewood Signs of the City of Tonawanda, is $1,800.
Tucker said other than the sign donation, every penny raised will be donated to veterans organizations. Groups that have benefited thus far are the American Legion Sikora Post, which received $2,000 for a furnace; the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 77, $1,000; and the Western New York Civil Air Patrol TAK Squadron, $1,000.
"We have a whole list, a very long list, which will take all of our money, which is what we made it for," said Tucker. "But without the city's help this never would have happened."
The ambitious local project was based on a national Healing Field project. Those who bought one of the flags in the park could designate the name of a veteran or loved one to be attached to the flags, which also had the names of those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ron Sciandra was chairman of the committee that organized the Healing Field event. Volunteers from the Erie/Niagara Sunrise Exchange Club and the Tonawandas Exchange Club also were involved.
Krause said when they started planting the flags in the park there were about 15 volunteers involved. By the end of the evening, there were more than 70 people helping. After the word got out on Facebook, volunteers started pouring in, some they didn't even know, Krause said.
The field of flags also drew crowds throughout the Sept. 10-11 weekend, both during the day and into the evening, with lighting provided by the city.
"It was beyond anything we had hoped for," said Tucker.
"The field was never empty," said Krause. "People were even there during the rain storm - just enjoying every minute. It was breathtaking."
Krause and Tucker said there are no plans to do another Healing Field in North Tonawanda in 2017, but said it may be revisited in five years for the 20th anniversary.